Saturday, October 30, 2010

A special week and Licata

View of Licata from Castel San'Angelo

I am spiraling down from a fantastic week spent with one of my dearest friends in the whole world. Although a mother of three, she was able to spread her wings free and fly solo for an entire week of Sicilian fun. In return for this amazing feat I tried my best to immerse myself in celebration mode, for there was much to celebrate with this reunion: a life-long friendship, precious girl time, becoming a tourist myself through the eyes of a first time visitor to Sicily, sharing the rhythms of daily life here, and dare I mention, the beginning of a new decade (yes, we are both 40 now!).

In addition to just being together, catching up, lots of laughter, and of course shopping, we also accomplished A LOT. From a day at Taormina, to a tour of my favorite 'aci' towns, to several walks in Catania's centro storico, and a jeep ride up to the tip top of windy snowy Etna, I think I was able to share some of the local highlights with the somewhat authentic twist that comes from seeing the sites with someone who actually lives here and speaks the language. Along the way we talked with a lot of extremely friendly Sicilians who were curious about the English speaking tall blond and her shorter, darker companion (that would be me). This was a new sort of Sicilian hospitality that on my own or with my Sicilian husband has never seemed so intense. I blame it on the special energy that emanated from us as a couple of re-united best buddies on the rampage (and the fact that my pal is really quite stunning).

The week-long visit concluded with a family road trip. We designed the trip around a special meal at what has been rated as one of Sicily's finest restaurants, La Madia, located in the chef's hometown of Licata. We also had the pleasure of sleeping in the cutest apartment located in a lovely little piazza just across from Licata's port, Antica Dimora San Girolamo. In addition to this memorable evening in Licata, we were also able to visit some of the most pristine beaches I have ever seen in Sicily, located just to the east and west of Licata. The weather was perfect and the water glistening. Two brave souls (that would be my hubby and tall blond pal) actually went for swims, while the 3 year old and myself were content to collect shells and only get our feet wet. Along the way we also got to experience olive pressing, wine making, and the colorful ceramics of Caltagirone.

Reflecting back on this fantastic week I have the desire to bottle up all the good memories so I can take them out whenever I have the need for that special feeling that comes with spending time with friends who have know you for just about forever. Thank you for this wonderful week together Kris!
There she is swimming by a castle near Falconara!

Monday, October 25, 2010

the grape harvest

Welcome to the winery and vineyards of Alice Buonaccorsi, located in the countryside of Randazzo and at the splendid foothills of Mt. Etna. This is a small, family run operation that produces about 30,000 bottles of wine a year under the label ValCerasa and has been in operation since 2001.

As soon as we set foot on the Buonaccorsi property, we were swept up in the excitement of the grape harvest, or vendemmia. Thanks to a sister-in-law who knows just about everyone, our family of three was able to tag along on the exciting experience of participating in the process from beginning to end. We discovered that the grapes are mostly picked over a period of four days, that no pesticides are used here, and that those grapes (mostly nerello mascalese) are juicy and deliciously sweet when eaten off the vine (yes, we tasted a few!).

We were each given a pair of scissors so that we could cut the bunches of grapes off of the vines from their stem, and a basket for collecting them in. The sun warmed our bodies and the occasional cloud coverings equally cooled them as we worked away for over an hour in those lovely fields. Back in the canteen, the children were fitted with rubber boots and got to let loose the old-fashioned way: grape stomping. The kids really had fun and before we knew it had squished and smashed every one of the grapes we had picked in the fields with 4 pairs of feet ranging from 3 years old to 10 years old.

In between the 'work' we got to play with puppies, climb on ancient olive trees, meet Michelangelo the donkey, track down a pair of sheep, sample wild fennel, collect chestnuts off the ground, run and skip down dirt paths, fulfill our appetites with pasta al forno, and quench our thirst with a homegrown bottle of red wine.

The life of the Buonaccorsi family is tantalizingly passionate and pure. Spending a day as their friends during this time of year was special on so many different levels, but mostly for allowing us to dream about such a life, what it would be like to live among the fields in and old farmhouse at the foothills of Etna...a pretty marvelous place to be if you ask me!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Project 2 - lots and lots of paint!

The paint was just about everywhere after our art group yesterday, but it was so worth it! And since this is the wonderful month of October the color of that paint was mostly ORANGE of course.

We didn't manage to get our hands on any books about Halloween in time for this pumpkin extravaganza, but I did find a very cute music video about pumpkins and how they grow: Brian Vogan's "That's how a pumpkin grows" via Piped Piper Radio. The video is so cute and the song very catchy. The main point I hoped the kiddies would see is that pumpkins are orange and can have faces on them, since we would be carving jack-o-lantern faces into apples and using them as stamps. Of course my son wanted to keep watching videos after that, but none of the other kids seemed to mind jumping from music video to craft project.

After the video we jumped right in and cut our apples into halves to form the 'pumpkins' and turned those into jack o' laterns by carving eyes and mouths with toothpicks and pencils (the nose is pre-formed by the apple's hollow core, which is sort of roundish in shape).

Then we got to the messy but most engaging part for the kids--mixing orange paint. We discussed as a group how you make orange while each child prepared their own plate with a blob of red and yellow paint on it. Then with brush in hand and much vigorous and messy mixing, we very soon had lots and lots of orange paint to stamp with. As soon as the kids saw blank pieces of white paper they wanted to start painting with their lovely orange paint right away. That was great, but we had to show them how to use their apples as stamps to form the pumpkins and soon both brushing and stamping was happening all over the place. The only problem was that the paint quickly got all over the apples and they got a little slippery to handle.

No matter, between the moms and the kids, everyone soon had many pages of orange pumpkins to work with. Then we got out smaller amounts of green and black paint and with Q-tips showed them how to make green stems and color in the eyes and mouths black.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Starting a kid's art group - our first project

It feels so great to have finally started a weekly art group for mom's and their kids. I had read about such art groups on blogs by other mothers and it looked like so much fun. Although I have always tried to expose my son to different creative activities since he was little, there is something exciting about being creative with others. The attention span of the children is greater, the enthusiasm of one child generates enthusiasm in others, and the mamas have fun too. It also seems like the creative activities that my son has been exposed to at his local day care/preschool are quite contained compared to American equivalents--messiness is not encouraged, coloring is supposed to be in the lines, and many of the activities have not seemed well-suited for younger children (in other words, the teachers did most of the project). Especially for this last reason my motivation to try and get friends and their kids together for weekly creative gatherings has increased, and I am lucky that I have such a fantastic group of multicultural, multi-lingual women and children to try this out with. Thanks to their receptiveness and with the encouragement of a friend who has done a similar group and all the wonderful ideas that are out there on the web, it has started to happen!

The first gathering was a huge success. I took an idea from the Artful Parent and did plaster collages: basically sticking random bits of anything into soft plaster. The kids loved the different materials to choose from and I was surprised that we were able to work on the activity for a good hour. We will try and do a better job next time of keeping the snack break separate from the project. We also tried doing a book reading at the end, but it would probably be better to do that at the beginning. Tomorrow is our next gathering and I am looking forward to getting the paints out and into the Halloween spirit.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A few local adventures

Here's a quick attempt to share some of the more local Sicilian adventures we've been having the last few months:

I went to the circus with my 3 year old. I had my reservations, not much different than those related to going to the zoo, but somewhat worse since the circus evokes images of animals being whipped into servitude and living in the insane conditions that come with traveling on the road. But since there are so few kid-oriented events in Sicily, I decided to keep an open mind and let my son experience the circus as the magical spectacle it would surely be from his 3 year old point of view. Although not 100% 3 year old appropriate (due to some very crazy clowns) and definitely disturbing in terms of the animals, my son loved just about every minute of it and it was hard not to get swept up in his enthusiasm despite my inner squeamishness.


Villa Bellini has reopened! The only real park in Catania's center, Villa Bellini has been mostly closed for over 2 years of restoration work. We went for a visit the very first weekend it reopened and it has plenty of walking paths and fountains and benches and play spots. We all hope the city will be able to maintain it as the clean, inviting green space it is, something Catania has been sorely missing.


A birthday to remember. Living in Sicily is its most fun when discovering new places. With a birthday at home this year I felt inspired to do just that and visit a spot that had been at the top of my list for years now (I emphasize the my because the other adult member of this family has a different opinion about more touristy destinations, but on my special day I could not be denied this one). My day trip of choice? One of Sicily's most beautiful spots--Isola Bella. After all these years I had never been, and we had a truly spectacular morning there. The photo says it all I think. The place is breathtaking, the snorkeling is wonderful, and the shallow pools of turquoise water and soft, pebbly sand make it a paradise for kids as well. Yes, it is a little nightmarish finding parking and carrying your beach gear down (and back up) all those steps to get to the water. But, if you go off-season, get there early and leave early to avoid the crowds, it is so worth it. A peaceful spot that makes you instantly feel like you are on vacation, even for just a few hours.


Some new discoveries: We finally figured out how to get to the ancient Roman baths called Santa Venera al Pozzo and located in Aci Catena. The place is beautiful and quite large, but only open on Sundays at noon when the little church (S. Venera) on the site is used for mass. We could only peak through the fence and wander around the perimeter of the site, but at least we now know how to get there and when a visit might actually allow us to view the ruins from the other side of the fence.


And if you are in the Acireale area and happen to be looking for a place to eat, try the popular and rustically charming seafood restaurant I Cavaddari, tucked away in the small town of Santa Caterina just below Acireale. There is a wonderful little courtyard and a surprising array of house antipasti that can turn your usual lunch into a special feast. It is also worth taking a stroll through the town towards the beach. In a few short minutes you will have a breathtaking view of the rocky coastline, and if weather permits you can climb down the steep staircase to experience the water up close.